Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Einstein's Dreams

The deceptive thing about titles of things is that they can deceive you into thinking that you somehow have appropriated something into your being, that you know it. Titles are highly compressed tags that represent structures that are usually very complex. Once I listened to Beethoven's symphonies so many times that I knew every moment of those recordings, every pause, every print-through echo on the tape, every perfection and every flaw. I could no longer listen to these symphonies because the sound of these works were now fully and totally mine. Thus, I went through years of not-hearing, satisfied that the Beethoven symphonies were something that I possessed. Yet, sitting one evening at a concert where the Beethoven Fifth Symphony was performed, I heard it as though for the first time, with many insights into the work that had never occurred to me until that moment. Then I realized that these works must live in time, not in memory. In memory, they become shorthand references, but in the lived sound in Time, they exist as dynamic connections to the reality of their structure and expression.

Alan Light's book, Einstein's Dreams has been a similar experience. This book is made up of thirty "dreams" where Time is experienced differently. These glimpses of Time pass by like clouds, subtly changing shape as they move across the sky. It is difficult for anything to be tied down, fixed, or permanently anchored to the systematic flow of Time that seems relentless, but for Einstein might be like a flock of Nightingales, darting about in hurried spurts. Having read these dreams, I thought they were mine. As I would pass by the book, lying on a pile of books in my room, I would smile, convinced that this was some trophy that now lay polished and gleaming on my shelf of accomplishments that somehow gave me confidence that I was acquiring wisdom through the wisdom of others.

And yet, today I picked it up and started reading, and it was as though I was discovering Einstein's Dreams for the first time. Such books are made to be performed in the timeline of ourselves. They cannot reside as static landmarks, stacked like stairs for us to ascend them to some remote castle of conquest where we have acquired the insight of the authors. Remembering the itinerary is not the same as living the journey.

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